High Summer

Oregon is very much about beauty. A part of it is the scenery, of course, from snowy peaks astride the mountain ranges, to lush green forests and glens spilling down highland slopes into river valleys, to the expansive grandeur of the high desert, where distance used to be measured in “looks” instead of miles. In the west, the restless Pacific surf grooms long white beaches, or explodes in brilliant fountains against rocky headlands. In the east, the mighty Snake River carves away at awesome Hell’s Canyon, having already gouged it deeper than the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. In between, countless rivers and streams murmur their ancient music.

One never tires of this setting.

It reminds me of the time I lived and worked in another beautiful place, Yosemite National Park. There the view from my back porch was the full-sized original of what millions of park visitors spend 75 cents plus postage to send back home. Day in and day out I pedaled my bike through that enchanted landscape, past flourishing groves of dogwood, pine and oak set against 2,000 foot granite cliffs draped with foaming ribbons of water.

One afternoon an Ahwahnee Hotel guest dropped by my desk in the lobby to report on the success of his day’s hike. It was great, he said. Magnificent, in fact. But then he thought for a moment and added: “You know, as beautiful as Yosemite is, I’ll bet that when you’ve lived here for a while, the scenery has as much impact as a painting over your couch. Don’t you sometimes forget to appreciate it?”

Well, I didn’t know what a “while” was, I told the gentleman. But I knew 25 year park veterans who were still as dumbstruck as I at the surreal pink alpenglow cast from the face of Half Dome at dusk, and old-timers who still teared up at the sight of morning mist rising off the Merced River as it glided through an emerald meadow.

Bored with such everyday stuff as that? Not them. Not me. Not in Yosemite. Not in Oregon.

And then there’s Oregon’s tamed land, just as inspirational in its own way, in the incredible variety and quality of its harvests.

As an example, I like to tell the story of a friend who moved from Utah to Corvallis. The first thing she did was turn her backyard into one big garden. She was determined to “Eat from the source” in her retirement years. Of course, when she relayed this goal to her son his response was: “But Mom, you moved to the Willamette Valley. Isn’t that sort of like cheating!”

And it’s true. We live in a horticultural paradise. This northwest Oregon valley, 150 miles in length, north to south, and 60 miles across at its widest point, is cradled in the arms of two water-rich mountain ranges. It bears the name of the river all that water generates, flowing north through some of the richest farm land in the world to its journey’s end at the mighty Columbia River.

Which brings me to another one of the many joys of living here, the anticipation of local seasonal foods. The fresh rhubarb and peas of spring, followed by the fabulous Oregon berries, sweet cherries, peaches, apricots, melons, juicy new-crop garlic, sweet corn, onions, and several months of non-stop heirloom tomatoes. Which leads us into autumn where the farmers’ markets still yield plenty of juicy bounty, from flavorful plums, crisp apples, potent storage onions, and thick-fleshed squash to succulent pears.

Altogether it’s an amazing journey that won’t slow down until the fields are finally nudged into dormancy by cooling autumn weather and the grapes come off the vines and the hazelnuts are swept up off the orchard floors.

For now, while the summer harvest is at its peak, all I can say is enjoy what Mother Nature so generously supplies to those of us lucky enough to live in this fabulous Pacific Northwest garden.

And here are a few more delicious maneuvers to help you do just that.

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Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com or find additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.